It’s always worth listening to what intelligent members of the class enemy have to say. Just like serious shop stewards read the Financial Times. We’ve done it before, here at Shiraz Socialist, but intend to do it more regularly, using the heading Enemy Intelligence. Here’s some wise inside info from Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph, on the Tories’ disarray on Europe. Anyone who thinks Labour should meet Ukip half-way, or that there’s a “left wing” case for EU withdrawal (as espoused by the moronic Bob Crow), should read this:
The Tory party’s gone crazy over Europe, and it’s Cameron’s fault
By Benedict Brogan
For a while yesterday, the European flag flew proudly over Michael Gove’s office. The Education Secretary’s vote of no confidence in the EU the day before had made no difference. Whatever others in Whitehall might say, it seemed, the Department for Education remained happily collegiate in matters continental. It had accepted a request to show the flag for Europe Day last week, which was why the circle of gold stars on a deep blue background proclaiming the penetration of Brussels deep into the workings of British governance could be seen flapping erratically in the breeze at the top of Sanctuary Buildings in Great Smith Street. No one raced for the halyards when Mr Gove appeared on television on Sunday morning to announce that he would vote to leave the EU if he could, and it was only at lunchtime yesterday, when the flag’s presence was drawn to the boss’s attention, that his ideological preferences were brought to bear and it was hastily lowered.
The waving of a flag tells us nothing about the Government’s European policy, of course, save perhaps that the EU is more deeply embedded in the fabric of the state than we would like to admit. The speed with which it was whisked off the DfE’s flagpole once it was detected by those who understand the power of symbols tells us plenty, however, about how twitchy the Conservative Party has become since the latest flare-up of its Euro neuralgia. Over the past few days it has, with a troubling degree of deliberation, thrown away the small but growing political advantage it had given itself in recent weeks in order to indulge in another of those interminable arguments about the nature of our relationship with the EU. In the space of a fortnight the Tories have gone from leading a national conversation about Labour’s unsuitability to govern a changing Britain, to staging a public family feud about who emptied the dishwasher last time and where they should go for the holidays.
The result is daily headlines advertising that once again the party is divided. Ignore those who boast that at least this time it’s merely about tactics, not policy. They would like you to conclude that because the Tory party at Westminster favours an in/out referendum, the current spat is a mere bagatelle. They are wrong, in the same way that any Tory politician who justifies attacking the leadership in public in the name of ideological rectitude should not be trusted with the electoral spoons. The party is divided on an issue that scarcely one in 10 voters lists as a priority. The electorate will respond accordingly if this continues.
Some would like to blame the mess on the rag-tag collection of Euro-irreconcilables who exist to make the life of any Tory leader a perpetual misery. After all, was it not their relentless manoeuvring to extract concessions on a referendum and then demand some more that caused all this trouble in the first place? Actually, no. This current episode, which has done so much to make David Cameron look a sap, can be traced back to a Downing Street scheme to head off trouble when the Tories hit the buffers in the local elections. A few days before polling day, the Prime Minister’s office signalled to The Daily Telegraph and elsewhere that Mr Cameron might be ready to bring forward legislation for an in/out referendum in this parliament. He might even, it was hinted, put it to a vote. The reaction was electric. The irreconcilables pounced, and asked for it in writing.
Which, as has happened on countless occasions with this lot, is when the hedging started. Ministers hummed and hemmed. Maybe a Bill, but not a vote. And actually not in this Queen’s Speech. Mr Cameron, it turned out, had no intention of including such a Bill in the Queen’s Speech. In fact, he didn’t even trouble to ask Nick Clegg if he would mind: he assumed the answer would be a flat no, and left it at that. When backbenchers understandably responded by proposing an amendment taking the Government to task, Downing Street first affected insouciance, then tied itself in knots by allowing backbenchers to vote against the Government, and ministers to abstain. His office may be correct on the narrow point – that the vote is meaningless – but that Mr Cameron is unable to ask his Cabinet to vote for the Government against a critical amendment is all too full of meaning about the sorry state of his authority.
Then there was Lord Lawson, who demonstrated that even the party’s greatest can become distracted by their own brilliance. His declaration that it was time to leave the EU was consistent with the intellectual journey he has pursued in public. Yet it also demonstrated the political deafness of the true obsessive who failed to hear the impact of what he said on his leader.
Once he had rolled his hand-grenade – purely in the name of intellectual inquiry, you understand – others joined in, culminating with Mr Gove who, presented with the gentle lob of a hypothetical question, happily answered it: yes, he too would vote to quit. Politicians have few “get out of jail” cards to play in a tricky interview, but declining to answer the hypothetical question is one of them. Why did Mr Gove chose to answer rather than pass?
It may be, as some Tories tried to explain yesterday, that a cunning new strategy is evolving before our eyes, one that Mr Gove and his friend Mr Cameron are developing as part of their wider campaign to shove Labour – and the Lib Dems – on to the wrong side of popular causes. By this theory, Europe is no longer a divisive, dangerous issue for the Tories to be caught arguing about, but is in fact a vote-winner. Look at us, the Conservatives are now shouting, we are so crazy about Europe that we are desperate to give you a vote on it and – nudge nudge, wink wink – we might just join you in voting to get out. By allowing his colleagues to say it all in public, and say it loudly, Mr Cameron is giving himself free advertising for his Euro-robustness two years early. The tease of a referendum, the catwalk of Tory beauties sashaying in their see-through ideological out-fits, the Cabinet loyalists talking naughty – it’s all part of a great plan. By allowing his colleagues to talk up the possibility of a British exit, the Prime Minister’s hand is strengthened in the EU negotiations to come. First welfare, then immigration, now Europe: everything is lining up in Mr Cameron’s favour.
Except it isn’t, of course. No 10 has lost control of this one. Even those involved admit it’s a Euroshambles. After all, can any of this truly be said to advance the cause of a Conservative victory in 2015? Surely the first part of Mr Cameron’s negotiating strategy requires winning the general election? Does an inward-looking spat about Europe really fit alongside the message about a global economic race and the importance of the EU/US trade deal that Mr Cameron found himself promoting in Washington yesterday? As for why Boris Johnson is alerting us that he too would like out, or why Mr Gove is willing suddenly to answer hypothetical questions he should by rights be dismissing, perhaps we should take another look at that flagpole and see if, in the glare, we can work out just whose flag is up there, and what it’s signalling.